Arsenal will be hoping to gain a much-needed first-leg advantage over Villarreal on Thursday evening with both clubs vying for a spot in the Europa League final.
Villarreal v Arsenal: Europa League semi-final preview
Mikel Arteta will be hoping to lead Arsenal to this year’s Europa League final with victory over Spanish side Villarreal in their last four meeting. The La Liga hopefuls, currently managed by former Gunners boss Unai Emery, are likely to provide the north London club with a stern test in order to maintain their own hopes of European glory this season.
Express Sport takes a look at the Arsenal side that could line up at the Estadio de la Ceramica for Thursday evening’s first-leg encounter.
Goalkeeper – Leno
Bernd Leno should keep his place between the sticks despite dropping a clanger on Friday evening to hand Everton a narrow 1-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium.
The German stopper’s critical error allowed Richarlison’s shot to roll underneath him and into the back of the net, leaving Arsenal languishing in 10th in the Premier League table.
Despite this, the 29-year-old is highly unlikely to be rested in favour of Brighton and Hove Albion loanee Mat Ryan.
Leno will be tasked with keeping the likes of Paco Alcacer and Gerard Moreno at bay as the Gunners look to gain an advantage going into next week’s decisive second leg.
Defence – Chambers, Gabriel, Holding, Tierney
Calum Chambers appears to have established himself as Arsenal’s first-choice right back in recent weeks, and could be handed another chance to impress at the expense of Hector Bellerin on Thursday evening.
Usual starter Kieran Tierney should occupy the other full-back position after Arteta confirmed on Wednesday that he would be considered for selection.
The Scot had been replaced by Granit Xhaka, who struggled to adapt to the role, in recent outings but has recovered from a knee ligament injury in time to face Villarreal.
Meanwhile, Rob Holding is likely to retain his place at the heart of Arsenal’s back four, while Gabriel Magalhaes could replace Pablo Mari alongside the former Bolton Wanderers man.
Midfield – Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard
Thomas Partey appears to be in line to feature in front of the defence, with the Ghanaian powerhouse likely to be partnered by Xhaka in the middle of the park.
The latter has been a regular for the Gunners under Arteta this season and should return to his usual position for Thursday’s match.
Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard is the club’s best creative player and will take up the No 10 role in place of Emile Smith Rowe, who could be forced to settle for a place on the bench.
The Norwegian playmaker has proven to be a welcome addition to Arteta’s side and will be hoping to produce another influential performance in Spain ahead of the return leg in seven days’ time.
Attack – Saka, Pepe, Lacazette
Hale End graduate Bukayo Saka has emerged as one of the first names on the team sheet this season, and should assume his preferred position on the right flank.
Nicolas Pepe, who has scored five goals and provided another four assists in the Europa League this season, is likely to be deployed on the opposite wing.
At the top of the pitch, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have both returned to the first-team picture ahead of Thursday’s clash, but the former ought to get the nod after his recent goalscoring escapades.
However, there could still be a role to play for the latter after recovering from malaria, and it remains to be seen whether he will be utilised as an impact sub by Arteta.
Expected Arsenal XI to play Villarreal – Leno; Chambers, Gabriel, Holding, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Pepe; Lacazette.
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